Why My “Self-Care” Did More Harm Than Good

“Self-care is how you take your power back.” ~Lalah Delia

Self-care is not a bubble bath.

I mean, it might be, if you’re the kind of person who feels like they’re committing a mortal sin by allowing themselves to wade in hot water with a candle or a book for twenty minutes alone. If that’s you, then yes. Please allow yourself a bubble bath. Regularly!

Same with a massage. Or scheduling time for exercise. Or buying yourself some new underwear. Or taking a nap.

If the idea of doing these things makes you feel squirmy and selfish and, Nooooo, I just can’t! then this is probably your brand of self-care.

It is not mine, though.

You see, I’ve never had a problem giving myself more treats. More me time! More pleasures! More whatever-I-feel-like-right-now! Treat Yo-Self wasn’t something I needed to be talked into—it was just public permission to do more of what I had always done.

By this kind of definition of self-care, I was winning the Self-Care Olympics. Why was it so hard for everyone else? I wondered, as I treated myself to another bath after my middle-of-the-day nap following by my weekly massage, while my taxes from three years ago went untouched for another day, the organic groceries in my refrigerator rotted in deference to another night of Treat Yo-Self takeout, and I canceled a therapy appointment because I just didn’t feel like going (again).

For the longest time, I waded in an ocean of cognitive dissonance. I didn’t feel like the kind of person who had a drinking problem, or lied, or who didn’t follow-through, or was flaky, or God forbid, lazy. I mean, I had so much evidence to the contrary! I was accomplished, I got a lot of things done, I presented well, people still loved me, and I had such good intentions!

Except my behavior pointed squarely to those things.

The disconnect ate at me. I knew I was tap-dancing a whole lot. I knew my good intentions were an excuse for shitty behavior. I knew that I was skating by in a lot of scenarios at work, with friends, in my financial life, at home. I knew that most of what I had accomplished was done at fifty percent, or less. I cut corners a lot.

I knew, even if I didn’t know, that much of my life was a house of cards.

So when I practiced the Instagram brand of #selfcare by pampering myself, I had this niggling sense that maybe more pampering wasn’t what I actually needed.

Which brings me to discipline.

Discipline has begrudgingly become my brand of self-care. Discipline is what has actually created freedom in my life, contrary to what I long believed. I thought my free-spirited ways were an act of rebellion against the monotony of life. That I was showing some kind of ballsy dissent toward the banality of adulthood Carpe diem and all that!

Meanwhile, through my twenties and thirties, I trembled inside, unsure as to why everyone else seemed to do adult things so easily and automatically. I thought maturity was an automatic function of time, a passive effect of getting older. Somehow, it would just magically happen!

Alas, no.

This one concept has made an enormous difference in my life: for me, self-care looks like discipline.

It looks like finishing things I start and pausing for a minute before I start another thing to consider the implications of starting said thing in the first place: financially, timewise, energy-wise, and who I might be impacting negatively if I don’t follow through.

It means boundaries on screen time. Limiting the amount of sugar I put in my body.

It means teaching my daughter to do things for herself instead of doing them for her because the latter is easier and causes less friction in the moment. It also means following through on consequences I lay down for her, even though it makes my life temporarily harder.

It means waking at basically the same time every morning, so I get in the practices that keep me steady before the rest of the world wakes up: morning pages, meditation, coffee, quiet.

It means abiding by commitments and being very exact about the commitments I make.

It means sticking to my word as much as possible, even when I don’t want to.

It means saying no to myself more than I say yes.

It means asking if my future self will thank me for what I’m about to do versus my in-this-moment self, and actually listening when the answer is, No, your future self will not appreciate this, Laura.

It often means doing what’s necessary over what’s fun.

Self-care for me means discipline because that’s what is uncomfortable for me. That’s what I struggle to do. It goes against my default patterning, and going against our patterning is how we change.

About Laura McKowen

Laura McKowen is the author of We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. She is a former public relations executive who has become recognized as a fresh voice in the recovery movement. Beloved for her soulful and irreverent writing, she leads sold-out yoga-based retreats and other courses that teach people how to say yes to a bigger life. Visit her online at lauramckowen.com.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!